ATCA2020: ATCA Annual Day Three – Virtual Reality 

Or should I say the realities of a virtual conference. The first two days worked surprisingly well from a technical perspective. Unfortunately, on day three I attended a few panels which had technical issues – from audio and video cutting out to not being able to join. Maybe the latter is a result of a high number of viewers – which would be a good behind the scenes reason for this. It is what it is with a virtual event, so hopefully today and tomorrow will go off smoothly again.

On day three I joined sessions that covered many different topics across the spectrum, the main theater along with educational and Tech Talks sessions. The first one up was looking at the cooperation of ATCA – ICAO – SESAR as related to airspace management in the upper E airspace. The discussion looked at the challenges associated with travel through conventional airspace and then movement within higher airspace. One of the challenges is the dynamic needs of these vehicles. They could need to change their routing in a matter of minutes based on weather and on the flipside, their ‘flights’ could last for months. Management of this type of dynamic routing needs different attributes than point-to-point ATC. Although air-breathing hypersonic travel isn’t likely until 2035 – meaning people are not currently traveling in these aircraft – a new integrated global traffic management system is certainly in the cards to address all of these new entrants.

Next up was a session related to global leadership and resiliency in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Panelists represented the FAA, skyguide, EASA, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Cargo Airline Association and GATCA. Not to dwell too much time on this topic as we are all well aware of the impact to our industry during 2020, but to share a few of the outcomes discussed on this panel helps to really understand the magnitude of impact to ANSPs. ANSPs in Europe are paid by the number of flights they support, so when there’s no flights, there’s no payment. EASA shared some information about the current flights in Europe. 70% of flights in Europe are crossing at least one border, which is not surprising based on the number of countries so closely positioned to each other. As of one year ago today there are 80% less passengers and 65% less flights in the sky. They predicted a recovery to normal occurring in 2023. The panel conducted a round table at the end and asked four questions of the panelists. The one I found most interesting was if we return to a normal way of traveling or stay with a new normal. All concurred that a new normal was the way ahead.

There was the fireside chat with Teri Bristol from the FAA. Of course, this discussion was heavily weighted towards the pandemic. When asked what surprised her most about the last six months – she responded how long the situation has gone on and how much longer it will continue to go on. Needless to say, top priorities for the next six months were tactical dealing with COVID-19 implications. Looking ahead there are the new market entrants that we have been hearing about throughout the conference. How to integrate them into the overall FAA programs with a high priority on the growth in commercial space activity.

Moving onto the topic of drones. There was an UAM presentation and a UTM panel looking at the progress that has been made during the UTM Pilot Program Phase 2. The first topic was presented by the FAA. Looking at the priorities of Uber Elevate as a data driven approach to mapping traffic and flight routes. This can’t integrate into the existing ATC systems and requires new ideas. IFR and VFR aren’t adequate to operate in this space. There needs to be a ConOps for UAM that is the same for all providers of UAM services. There has been discussion of creating separate travel corridors for this traffic. In addition, there would need to defined performance requirements and a plan for aircraft to share intent with other aircraft in order to avoid collisions. The expectation for how this market evolves, begins with moving people and large cargo. Over time the expectation is that it could evolve to personal aircraft and autonomous rooftop-to-rooftop transportation. The National Airspace System (NAS) needs to be opened to the next round of innovation coming into play.

The Phase 2 program has been completed with the focus on situational awareness and strategic deconfliction. The panel included participants from the FAA, Virginia Tech, AirXOS, Wing and NuAIR. There was a high involvement of public safety requirements and testing of Remote ID.  To learn more, check out the FAA’s site on these topics.

Last but not least, trust no one!

The last panel I joined was related to Zero Trust in the NAS with the FAA and L5 Technologies presentting. Zero Trust is a widely used term in the Cybersecurity industry, in fact maybe an over-used term. All vendors in this space currently have this terminology in their marketing. But what does this actually mean. At the simplest level this means ‘deny by default’.  As complexity of networks and systems increase, so does the risk. Statistics show that 34% of breaches involve an internal threat actor. This does not mean this was intentional though. 56% of breaches could take months for organisations to find.

The NAS protects its perimeter like a castle wall. The problem with this is that you need to have a least one hole in the wall to enter the castle. Inside is a system of systems architecture which requires trust policies to be set up and audited manually. SWIM enables the exchange of data, but as the amount of data grows this might not be a feasible solution for the future as more IP and interconnected networks need to be accommodated.

Safety-based design is inherently slow by design. This doesn’t adapt to new technologies.  Zero Trust allows the castle to be protected in a more dynamic transaction-based way. Micro-segmenting different policies based on user, device and application being used. It’s all about contextualisation. Automation and orchestration are two terms you will here when the industry discusses Zero Trust security. Unfortunately, you can only implement so much automation in ATC as there always needs to be a human at the center. Thinking for the future, security must be included from day one as any new systems are designed. IoT (connected planes, drones, etc.), intelligence (smart airports and airlines) and resilience should be keywords for these future design concepts.

Another interesting day, two more to go. Let’s see what’s next on the agenda.